Sound System Suck Button
Found on "Bench Humor" at firebottle.com
contributed by Fred Holzhauer
Here’s a story that those of you who run sound might find amusing, or even just those of you who are used to playing venues with sound systems.
My band’s drummer, John, is also a sound guy; for several years before we hooked up musically, he had been doing sound for other bands I was in, as well as for touring acts I booked shows for. He’s very good at what he does, and has a pretty massive rig. Anyway, he’s the nicest guy in the world at band practice, at Burger King, or at a gig we’re playing, but when he’s running sound for other bands, he can be pretty crabby. Very little patience for bands who start late or end late. Even less patience for bands who take an encore when they’re the second band playing out of five. Very little patience for singers who ask for more vocals in the monitor while cupping the microphone ball in both hands (feedback, anyone?) In general, just an altogether grouchy sound man. For example, he ran sound once for this seven- or eight piece ska band. One of the trombone players said he needed two mics: one for his horn and one for his backup vocals. Normally at this venue (a 120-seater), John didn’t bother to mic horns at all. Rolling his eyes, John put up a Shure Beta 58 and some AKG condenser mic. “This Shure is for your vocals, and this AKG is for your horn, OK?” he said. “Don’t blow your horn into the vocal mic, because your horn is about 30db louder than your voice and I’m going to have everything mixed properly.” Horn player nods his head. During the second song of the set, apparently this trombonist was set to get a solo. Right before his solo starts, he grabs both mics and pushes them close together, so that the capsules are actually touching. He then blows this fortissimo opening note into BOTH mics. I was sitting at a table in back, by the sound board, at the time. John’s limiters caught most of it, and I STILL had ringing in my ears for two days. At the end of the song, John mutes both of the guy’s mics (and leaves them mute), and basically threatens to ream out the guy’s plumbing with his own horn if he ever pulls that shit again. John does this through his talkback mic, which is clearly audible over the monitors. The crowd bursts into laughter, and the horn player goes bright red in the face.
At any rate, for years I had heard John threaten bands with the “suck button.” Bands who were taking too long to set up, or whose members repeatedly refused to follow reasonable directions (please keep that vocal mic away from the monitors!), would be threatened. “Pull that shit again, and I’m gonna hit the suck button on you guys!” I took it to mean that he would intentionally make them sound bad, but he never followed through on the threat, so I took it as a vague general warning.
So anyway, a little while back he’s running sound on a four band show. The second band, a Matchbox 20/Train kind of band, has him running 20 minutes behind before they even play a note because their lead guitarist was late. Their allotted set time is 40 minutes, but their last song runs over and by the time it’s done, they’ve played for almost 45 minutes. John says quietly over the talkback mic, “Hey guys, you’re done.” The lead singer says loudly over the vocal mic “Sound man says we gotta get off the stage. We got one more song for you!” as they kick into another soupy jangle-rock tune. John shakes his head at me. Then, the most amazing thing happened. After their “encore,” this band kicks straight into ANOTHER song without announcing it, apparently in the hope that John wouldn’t notice it was a different song.
John leans over to me to be heard over the PA and asks, “Hey, wanna see the suck button?”
“Sure,” I replied. I figured he was going to muck with the levels or just turn them off or something. Instead, he reaches to one of his racks and starts scrolling through patches on his trusty DigiTech unit. Sure enough, he gets to a patch titled SUCK BUTTON. He engages it, and all hell breaks loose onstage. The lead singer and the lead guitarist (who was singing backup), immediately start to sing WAY off key. They try to get back in tune, fail, trail off in mid-line, try again, and start glaring at each other. The guitarist is so distracted by this that he starts muffing the chord progression. If not for the drummer, I think the whole song would have derailed. For the entire four minute duration of the song, I was treated to this asshole band sounding like crap and getting madder and madder at each other. John explained the patch to me; basically it pitch shifts all tracks from the vocal submix up one step, BUT ONLY IN THE MONITORS. So the audience, out in front of the mains, was treated to the sound of two guys trying to sing in tune, only to be utterly confused. If they got it sounding right in the monitors, they could tell that something was grossly wrong in the mains. And each of the singers thought it was the other guy who was singing out of tune. I just about died laughing.
Anyway, that’s it. Funny, huh?
— contributed by Fred Holzhauer